Wind farms are taking a bigger part in creating clean energy. Are wind farms the answer to replacing the oil based power industries?
Wind farms, surprisingly enough, do not involve any farming. Actually, a Wind farm describes a group of wind turbines that are used to produce electric power. A large wind farm may consist of a few dozen wind turbines to several hundred. Since Wind farms can cover extended areas, the land between the turbines may be used for agriculture or other purposes. Also, a wind farm can be located off shore to take advantage of the strong winds that blow over the surface of the ocean.
Historically, wind has been used to create energy for hundreds of years. However, the world’s first wind farm was installed in southern New Hampshire in December 1980, consisting of 20 wind turbines. Today, the Roscoe Wind Farm in Roscoe, Texas (owned and operated by E.ON Climate & Renewables) is the world’s largest wind farm with 627 wind turbines and a total capacity of 781.5 MW.
The most common wind turbines are the horizontal axis type. Those turbines have blades that are similar to airplane propellers. The blades can measure over 300 feet across while the turbine as a whole is usually over 260 feet tall. The wind turns the blades which generates kinetic energy and powers an electric generator that collects the power to feed it into utility power lines.
Wind farms in the U.S.
The United States is the world’s leader in wind power- in 2009 the installed capacity of wind power was just over 35,000 megawatts (35 GW). In other words, wind power generated through wind farms accounted for about 2% of the electricity generated in the United States. That translates to enough electricity to power the equivalent of nearly 9 million homes, avoiding the emissions of 57 million tons of carbon each year and reducing expected carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2.5%.
Wind power is growing rapidly and the U.S.’s capacity for wind power has more than doubled in the past three years. The top five states with the most installed wind capacity are Texas, Iowa, California, Oregon and Washington. Growth in 2008 channeled around $17 billion into the economy, positioning wind power as one of the leading sources of new power generation in the country, along with natural gas.
The state of California was the first U.S state to develop large wind farms back in the early 1980’s. By 2004 California produced about 4.3 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity, approximately 1.5% of yearly energy consumption. Today, most of California’s wind turbines are located in three regions: east of San Francisco on the Altamont Pass Wind Farm; south east of Bakersfield on the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm; east of Los Angeles near Palm Springs on the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm.
In San Diego County, The Kumeyaay Wind farm is located on Campo tribal lands, about an hour’s drive east of San Diego. The 25 power-generating turbines are maintained under contract with Enxco, Inc. Each of the turbines generates up to 2 megawatts of electricity, which is considered by officials to be the highest electricity levels a wind turbine can generate. Those wind turbines are extremely large- Each of those blades measures 136 feet long, and one can’t really grasp the size of it from afar.
The farm annually produces power sufficient for about 30,000 homes and saves approximately 110,000 tons a year in greenhouse gas emissions (compared with equivalent fossil fuel generation). It helps San Diego Gas & Electric meet its target of supplying at least 20 percent of its customers’ electricity from renewable sources by 2010.
The potential of wind farms
In addition to producing clean energy, Wind projects can also strengthen the economy of rural communities by providing a steady income stream to farmers with wind turbines on their land. Landowners typically receive $3,000 to $5,000 per year in rental income from each wind turbine, while farmers can continue to grow crops or graze cattle up to the foot of the turbines.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently released a comprehensive update of the wind energy potential, showing that United States has the potential to install 10,458,945 MW of onshore wind power. With this capacity, Wind power could generate 37,000,000 GWh annually- nine times larger than current total U.S. electricity consumption!
On February 2009 President Obama signed into law economic recovery legislation. This law has many significant provisions to benefit renewable energy, including a Treasury Department grant program for renewable energy developers, a long-term extension of the wind energy production tax credit, an Energy Department loan guarantee program for developers and manufacturers, an expansion of Energy Department research, development and deployment funding, and a tax credit for advanced energy manufacturers.
Thus, the potential of wind farms throughout the country is huge, and has many benefits, from strengthening the economy, to producing cleaner energy while saving money on utility bills.